Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey et al. | Go to book overview

12
Beneath the Mask:
Tools for Detecting
Hidden Prejudice

“He who has eyes to see and ears to hear can convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of every pore. ”

—Sigmund Freud (1865–1939), pioneer of psychoanalysis


BACKGROUND

When we, the authors of this volume, mention that we are (social) psychologists, we almost always receive one of two replies. The first is: “That must be so interesting!” We certainly think so, and hope readers of this volume agree. The second reply we get is: “I'd better watch out—you might start analyzing me!” When we hear this, we react in two ways. First, we are wryly amused that others believe we can so easily peer into their minds. Second, we are a little frustrated that others misunderstand how we do our science. We find ourselves in the position of having to gently refute people's widely held misconceptions about what (social) psychologists do, or are capable of doing.

For example, people commonly believe that psychologists can figure them out simply by making a few shrewd observations. In this regard, psychologists supposedly resemble Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective who drew astounding inferences from clues that lesser mortals overlooked. A speck of dust here, a muddy footprint there, and Holmes could deduce that Moriarty had stolen the Princess's emerald. Similarly, a nervous gesture here, a slip of the tongue there, and your neighborhood psychologist can supposedly deduce that nobody really loved you as a child.

Sherlock Holmes was, of course, a fictional character, so it is hardly surprising that his investigative methods would have come to grief in the real

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